Funding, donating to or visiting orphanages is fraught with real risks of unintended consequences, reputational damage and the funding of those with evil intent.
I have just spent two days at a Better Volunteering, Better Care “inter-agency workshop” addressing the question “within the field of child rights how might we redirect the efforts from orphanage “visits” to ethical alternatives that have positive outcomes?
The campaign against orphanage volunteering by responsibletravel.com which was sparked by the panel on Responsible Volunteering at WTM in 2012 when the issue was raised again by Michael Horton, Chairman and Founder of Cambodia based ConCERT. Watch the video
In Nepal there are 800 registered orphanages holding 15,000 children, two thirds of whom are NOT orphans. 90% of orphanages are in 5 districts, those which are visited by tourists – there are 75 districts in Nepal, 90% of the orphanages are in just 5 of them. Demand for visits to, and volunteering in, orphanages, creates supply.
People in the industry need to think hard about their role in creating the incentives for the unscrupulous to develop orphanages and make orphans. Families are often tricked into allowing their children go to what they are told is a good boarding school –when they try to visit what is in fact an orphanage they are turned away – parents are denied access to their children.
Martin Punkas of Next Generation Nepal talked about the work they are doing to liberate trafficked children from orphanages
Next Generation Nepal (NGN), assisted in the rescue of 18 malnourished children from an exploitative children’s home. All 18 children had to sleep in one small filthy room, sometimes with no more than a bowl of popcorn for a meal. The home did not have enough water to wash the children and its one toilet was not cleaned for weeks. The youngest child is 2 years old.
The 18 children were released from the home near Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, on November 10 at 6:43 p.m. All children were brought to the safety of the NGN-funded transitional home that same evening. One 13-year-old boy was immediately hospitalized with chronic malnutrition. – Read more
The Forget Me Not Children’s Home had an ethical framework that the donor applied, they did their due diligence, and they tried to exercise supervision. The donors had the wool pulled over their eyes for several years by the local committee which ran the centre. Donors visited two or three times a year and spent time at the orphanage – the children were threatened that they would be hurt if they spoke out.
Next Generation Nepal advised and supported Forget Me Not in the rescue of the children from the orphanage which they had previously funded. The rescue itself was led by a remarkable American woman called Eva Capozzola. In partnership with NGN, Forget Me Not went on to ensure the reunification of most of the girls with their families
The donor was tricked; despite making every effort to ensure that they were doing good, they funded bad. They’ve now switched to supporting family care.
In Cambodia, less than a quarter of children in orphanages are actual orphans. The New York Times has just this week published on Scam Orphanages in Cambodia
A government study conducted five years ago found that 77 percent of children living in Cambodia’s orphanages had at least one parent.
The empathy of foreigners — who not only deliver contributions, but also sometimes open their own institutions — helped create a glut of orphanages, according to aid workers, and the government says they now house more than 11,000 children. Although some of the orphanages are clean and well-managed, many are decrepit and, according to the United Nations, leave children susceptible to sexual abuse.
“The number of orphans has been going down and the number of orphanages going up,” said Sarah Chhin, who helps run an organization that encourages children in orphanages who have families to return home. “We are forever having people say, ‘I’ve come to Cambodia because I want to open an orphanage.’ ”
The workshop started the development of ethical alternatives to orphanage tourism that have positive outcomes – they may be ready to be launched at WTM in November.